The Siege of Barcelona 14 September to 19 October 1705

This siege took place during the War of the Spanish Succession when a Grand Alliance army led by Lord Peterborough, supporting the Habsburg claimant to the Spanish throne, captured the city of Barcelona from its Spanish Bourbon defenders.

Catalonia was regarded as of strategic importance and a potential source of military support for the Allies of the Grand Alliance in their bid to place Archduke Charles of Austria on the Spanish throne in opposition to the rival French Bourbon candidate Philip V. Barcelona was recommended as a potential target by the region’s former Governor Prince George of Hesse-Darmstadt. In 1704, he had attempted a landing outside the city but had been forced to withdraw.  Prince George continued to believe that the Catalans would welcome Allied intervention due to their opposition to the Bourbon King in Madrid and that the Bourbon authorities had recently further alienated the Catalans by the imposition of a series of extremely repressive measures against them.

In 1705, a new Allied expedition, of mainly Anglo-Dutch troops set sail from Lisbon.  The commanders had orders that permitted them discretion to choose between several different destinations, including Cadiz and Toulon, but it was decided to attempt to take Barcelona again.

The expedition was under the overall command of the Lord Peterborough, his second-in-command was General James Stanhope. They were accompanied by Prince George of Hesse-Darmstadt and the Austrian Archduke Charles. The fleet carrying them was commanded by Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell.  The fleet arrived off Barcelona on 16 August.

The city’s defences had recently been repaired and strengthened and measures taken to make sure there was no rising by the Catalans in support of the Allies.

On 23 August the Allied troops, including Charlemont’s Regiment of Foot (later the 36th Foot), were landed three miles east of Barcelona. They were given a warm welcome by local inhabitants and several thousand Catalan rebels gathered outside the city. The Allies proceeded to invest Barcelona to prevent any resupply of the garrison.  Entrenched batteries were prepared under the direction of Colonel John Richards, but Archduke Charles initially forbade a bombardment of the city for fear of offending his potential subjects.

Apart from the construction of siege works very little activity took place for several weeks. Lord Peterborough was concerned that he had too few soldiers relative to the  size of the garrison, and considered abandoning the siege. However, he was opposed by Admiral Shovell as well as a number of his subordinates who favoured an assault.  It was eventually decided that the allies first had to take possession of Montjuïc Castle.  This stronghold overlooks and dominates the city of Barcelona. Therefore, in September the Lord Peterborough agreed to launch an attack, and to deceive the garrison he pretended to abandon the siege and march away towards Tarragona.

The Siege of Barcelona, 1705. From a print in the Museum’s Collection

Late on the night of the 13th September, a force under the command of Prince George of Darmstadt approached the castle in three separate columns. One under the command of General James Stanhope, acted as a diversion to draw the attention and fire of the defenders, while the other two attacked the rear of the castle. They were initially repulsed, but attacked again and succeeded in taking the outer defences of the castle.

Fighting carried on for several days but on the 17th, the castle finally fell to the Grand Alliance. Peterborough established artillery batteries in the castle, which had a commanding position over the city of Barcelona from which they bombarded it until its surrender a month later on the 19th of October.

The Bourbon forces launched a concerted attempt to recapture it the following year during the Siege of Barcelona (1706), which failed. The city and Catalonia remained in Allied hands until reconquered by the Bourbons in 1714.